What better way to learn a new skill than from playing a game? At the Boardgaming World Championships, contestants compete in competitive games that require coordination and drive to win. From years of boardgame competition, they have learned valuable lessons about leadership. What other activities have you participated in that you have applied in business practices?
(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY A few recent articles use Google vice president Marissa Mayeras a model for how swamped executives should handle the extraordinary demands of their jobs without burning out.
What a spectacularly bad idea.
Mayer says she typically works 90-hour weeks packed with 60 meetings. InGoogle’s early years, she says she worked 130-hour weeks by being “strategic about when you shower and sleeping under your desk.”
Why doesn’t she succumb to burnout, working nearly all the time, year in and year out? “I don’t really believe in burnout. A lot of people work really hard for decades and decades, like Winston Churchill and Einstein,” she says. And she schedules a week off every six months or so.
Let me say this about that. I did the math. The woman works all the time. She loves what she does. She has $300 million or so in the bank. She’s happy. Good for her. I’m happy she’s happy. But it’s a rare case that nobody, and I mean nobody, should use as a model for how to work, how to live, or how to avoid burnout. Period.
Now for something that may make a little more sense to mere mortals like you and me.
There’s so much written about work-life balance and time management these days, it’s easy to get lost. And I, for one, am no expert on either. What I can say with absolute confidence, however, is that, over a 30-year career, there were times when I worked my tail off, times when I had loads of fun, and times when I was lucky enough to combine the two. Looking back on it, I have few regrets and none that I can’t live with.
Sure, I made some sacrifices, but who doesn’t? That is perhaps the only thing Mayer and I agree on. You can’t have it all so you have to figure out what’s really important to you. Amen to that. Here are a few more not-so-obvious insights into how to be a functioning workaholic, whether you chose that lifestyle or it was thrust upon you.
What’s a workaholic? Somebody who puts work first, works more than he should, gets in trouble with his wife about it, maybe misses the birth of a child or two, obsesses about work, is “on” 24×7, has trouble not working when she doesn’t have to, that sort of thing. Anyway, it’s always good to know what you’re dealing with.
Don’t be over-the-top proud of it. If you chose the lifestyle, you should definitely be comfortable with that. But don’t go running around shouting about it to everyone who’ll listen or wear it like some sort of badge of honor. That’s just annoying. You should never apologize for the life you choose, but there’s nothing especially noble about being a workaholic, either. And don’t complain. That’s even more annoying.
Work your tail off when you have to; not when you don’t. That’s how I did it and it worked great. When duty called, I was there as needed. A quick trip for a meeting in Japan, a week or two on the road, long days and nights, that’s why executives make the big bucks. But when things simmered down, so did I. I chilled plenty. No guilt, either. That way, it all evens out. Magically, no burnout.
Have fun doing it. Yes, I know that’s easy to say, but if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, if it isn’t fun on at least some level, you’ll never be able to handle the workaholic grind. You’ll make yourself and everyone around you miserable. You’ll ruin your health and your life. Don’t bother. You have to find something that turns you on in some material way to be able to work hard at it.
Know the signs of burnout. Okay, so the truth is that there were situations when I wasn’t happy. It had more to do with the company, the culture or my boss than the work itself. Those, in my opinion, are more common causes of burnout than just working long hours. Anyway, burnout is when you’re miserable all the time and there’s no end in sight. Watch out for the signs.
Don’t be a dope and sacrifice your health for work or anything else, for that matter. If you can work consistent 90-hour weeks for years and pull off looking and coming across as well as Mayer does, be my guest. Knock yourself out. However, in 30 plus years working in and around the high-tech industry, I’ve rarely seen it. But then, just about everyone I know is actually human.
Steve Tobak is a consultant and former high-tech senior executive. He’s managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a management consulting and business strategy firm. Contact Steve or follow him on Facebook,Twitter or LinkedIn.
Instill a natural passion in your sales team to see your profits rise.
Can better leadership contribute as much to the bottom line as good sales training? One of the biggest challenges of teaching leadership is how to directly and immediately increase sales and profits. I’m often told, “These leadership ideas sound great in a perfect world, but changing culture seems like a long, tough process. What can I do right now to improve my business?” Since increasing sales is the first and most obvious thing that most business owners look at when they want to grow the bottom line, I looked into what sales trainers were doing and found a gaping hole in conventional teachings. A hole that a good leader can immediately fill that will grow a company’s sales and build infinitely more trust with customers.
In my work with companies and individuals, the one consistent trait in top- performing salespeople is a strong belief in the product or service that they are selling. If you want to increase your sales without resorting to high-pressure tactics or high stress incentives, simply ask your sales team if they believe they are selling the best product in your industry. If they don’t believe that they are selling the best, it is extremely unlikely that they are performing at their highest potential. People naturally sell what they believe in, and while a slick salesman might be able to sell a product that he dislikes, it is extremely difficult to fake enthusiasm for extended periods of time without appearing transparent to clients. Think about it. Could you sell a product that you thought was inferior? Could you sell it well? Or perhaps more importantly, would you want to sell it at all? Many people assume salespeople are motivated by money, and while this is largely true, it’s absurd to think they are motivated only by money. Salespeople are still human and while commission bonuses and sales spiffs will probably remain an important part of most sales compensation plans, studies consistently show that financial incentives never have the same lasting impact as an employee who is passionate about his work and it is a simply not possible to be passionate about something that you think is inferior.
Besides instilling natural passion into your sales team, a salesperson who truly believes in his product or service is far more likely to sell with integrity. Recently, I was discussing ways to increase sales with John Buerger, a client of mine who works in financial planning. John explained that in the financial services sector — like many commission-based industries — there is a huge conflict of interest created by the pressure to up-sell clients while still providing the best solutions for their needs. Since sales is not my core area of expertise, we looked at different sales training material — but all of it was based on teaching the salesperson to push harder, talk smoother, close faster, and make more money. Not only did they assume that salespeople were essentially driven only by financial incentives, they also paid very little attention to product quality or even the customer’s needs once sales resistance had been overcome. This kind of sales training only exacerbated the conflicts of interest faced by many salespeople.
Instead of adopting these methods, which would have turned him into another typical high-pressure salesman, we decided a better way for John to grow his business was to restructure it so that he honestly believed in all of his product offerings, the manner in which he serviced his clients, and even the colleagues with whom he shared his office. The result of these changes is that John’s business is now growing with very little additional sales activity on his part, while past colleagues who continued to do business the conventional way find themselves in a constant state of trying to replace existing clients due to a high rate of churn.
There will always be a place for good sales training, and professionals should continually hone their skills by learning new ways to get past gatekeepers, find the decision makers, and overcome objections. But when it comes to building a truly motivated sales team, the first step is to find out if your people honestly have passion for their products. By definition, “soft skills” like leadership are difficult to measure, but passion is infectious, and by making sure that your salespeople believe in their offerings you can increase your sales while maintaining complete integrity.